ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A former firefighter pleaded guilty to starting a blaze in a national forest, and charges against him involving four other fires were dropped. The area had been plagued by arson in recent years.
Brian Neil Klinekole, 27, appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court and said he flung a lit cigarette that started the March 12 fire in Lincoln National Forest on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The fire was limited to 11 acres.
At the time of the fire, Klinekole was a firefighter for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The plea agreement calls for prosecutors to drop charges against Klinekole accusing him of setting four other fires in the area. Under the deal, he will serve up to 2 1/2 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Valencia said at an earlier hearing that Klinekole started the fire because of family problems and the need to work.
Klinekole was indicted last summer, three months after the formation of the Wildfire Investigation Task Force, headed by Valencia. Since mid-2000, at least 160 arsons have been reported in the area, officials have said.
The reservation is in south central New Mexico.